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The tourist trail in Istanbul

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Straddling the continents of Asia and Europe, the intriguing city of Istanbul lies waiting to welcome the growing numbers of travelers who come to marvel at its treasures and architecture. Istanbul has a rich and unique history as the capital of three great empires. The Romans, the Byzantines and the Ottomans used their wealth to create wonderful buildings and artifacts that have survived the centuries and will provide the visitor with a memorable experience. Istanbul has friendly people and an abundance of well priced hotels and restaurants that will make your stay comfortable and trouble free.

Good for
  • History Buff
  • Art and Architecture Lover
  • Thrifty Traveller

12 Places

4 City Tips

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Map

12 Places

Day 1

Sultanahmet District

Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods

Blue Mosque

Sacred & Religious Sites

Obelisk of III. Tutmosis

Ancient Ruins

Basilica Cistern

Architectural Buildings, Historic Sites, Ancient Ruins

Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)

Architectural Buildings, Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites, History Museums

Day 2

Topkapi Palace

History Museums

Gulhane Park

Parks

Day 3

Kapali Carsi

Flea & Street Markets

Suleymaniye Mosque

Architectural Buildings, Sacred & Religious Sites

Galata Bridge

Bridges

Bosphorus Strait

Bodies of Water

Taksim Square

Neighbourhoods

CambridgeMaggie's City Tips

  • Stay in the Sultanahmet district to get the most out of your days.
  • To get a good rate, buy your Turkish lira when you get into the city. Just take enough for the first day.
  • Take appropriate clothing as you must dress modestly in the mosques. Single female travelers will have less unwanted attention if a little thought is given to clothing choice.
  • It is possible to buy a museum pass which is valid for 72 hours. Check which museums you wish to visit to decide if this is a good deal for you.
    Day 1
  • Save
    Sultanahmet District
    Historic Walking Areas, Neighbourhoods
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    Head here first to get a flavour of what is to come. There are so many of the fabulous sights you have come to see within a small area. Beautiful mosques, great restaurants, palaces, museums, Egyptian Obelisks, Roman remains, trams, the bazaars, beautiful squares, bustling shops and friendly people - all within easy walking distance of each other. Best to stay in this area in one of the many cheap hotels. Take comfy shoes and a head scarf if visiting the many mosques. The restaurants sell traditional Turkish food in this area and not all serve alcohol. This is a fairly conservative area of the city and there is not an abundance of bars, although you should find enough to keep you amused. There are several places to change money and they offer a good rate of exchange. Go to one of the many cafes selling the filled 'pancake' style creations you will see the women rolling out in the windows. Several just past the Roman Cistern - carry on down the hill towards the park and look on the right hand side. Delicious!

    Good for
    • Foodie
    • Must See
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Take a scarf for the mosques
    • Best area to stay
    • Visit at night as well to see the way the buildings are illuminated.
    • Get a taxi from the airport to the Sultanahmet area where you have booked your hotel. they are fairly inexpensive.
    Plan to stay:/
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #4 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great ambiance 20/10/2017
    • I think of this as the Center of Istanbul. 19/10/2017
    • Sultanahmet District
    Address:
    Sultanahmet
    Istanbul 34012
    Turkey
  • Save
    Blue Mosque
    Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    Built in 1603-1607 and obviously, this is one of the top sights here and must not be missed. We visited both in the day and in the evening when it is beautifully lit up and the proportions of the building can be properly appreciated. There are lots of benches at the front and it is possible to just sit and contemplate its beauty. Inside, it is fairly busy and many tourists cram the space taking selfies.You can visit freely as long as you dress appropriately and respect customs. If you do not have a head scarf, you can borrow one free of charge.What should you look at? Note the six minarets - more than any other Istanbul mosque, the huge prayer area and look at the 21,000 Iznik tiles that give it its name. The stained glass windows are not the originals but they give the same effect. The mosque is located opposite Hagia Sophia and so it makes sense to combine your visit.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Respect customs. Dress modestly. Do not photograph worshipers.
    • Removal of shoes is compulsory so wear your best socks.
    • Be sure to use the signposted tourist entrance. Separate from worshiper's entrance.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #2 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • With a great view in the outside 20/10/2017
    • Another stunning sight to see. 20/10/2017
    • Blue Mosque
    Address:
    Sultanahmet
    Sultanahmet Mah
    Istanbul 34122
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 518 13 19
    Hours:
    Fri
    13:30 - 15:30
    Sat - Thu
    08:30 - 11:30
    13:00 - 14:30
    15:30 - 16:45
    Other:
  • Save
    Obelisk of III. Tutmosis
    Ancient Ruins
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    The obelisks add their part to the city's story. At first, I wondered if they were copies as the hieroglyphs just seemed so clear, like they were carved yesterday. In fact, it is the Ancient Egyptian obelisk of Pharaoh Thutmose III which was moved to the Hippodrome of Constantinople (now Istanbul,) by the Roman emperor Theodosius in the 4th century AD. It is made of red granite and one face of the base shows the winner of a chariot race being awarded his prize. The area in which you are now standing was used for chariot racing by the Romans.Take a picture as you head to the Blue Mosque and make your way across the Hippodrome and ask yourself where else you can see so much completely free of charge!

    Good for
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • No fee. Right by the Blue mosque.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #56 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • When walking past..... 16/10/2017
    • small one 10/10/2017
    • Obelisk of III. Tutmosis
    Address:
    Sultanahmat Meydani
    Sultanahmet, Fatih
    Istanbul
    Turkey
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    00:00 - 23:59
  • Save
    Basilica Cistern
    Architectural Buildings, Historic Sites, Ancient Ruins
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    This is a wonderful feat of engineering, built in 532 by the Byzantines' slaves and it is amazing that it has survived. It was built to supply water to a great palace and then used to supply water to the gardens of the Topkapi palace.It is built of marble and granite. There are 12 rows of columns, one of which has engravings of tears and peacock eyes. Usually, you won't queue for long and you won't pay very much to enter so it's worth including on your itinerary. It is very dark down there and it is fairly chilly and damp. The Medusa heads are smaller than you may imagine. One is upside down and the other is on its side. the reason for this is unknown. There are some ghostly carp swimming around in the gloom. Expect to stay around an hour at most.

    Good for
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Hidden Gems
    Tips
    • Lots of steps.
    • Can be cold down there.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #6 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Water storage in roman times 20/10/2017
    • Huge cistern 20/10/2017
    • Basilica Cistern
    Address:
    Alemdar Mahallesi, Yerebatan Caddesi, No:1/3
    Istanbul 34410
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 512 15 70
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    09:00 - 17:30
    Other:
  • Save
    Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
    Architectural Buildings, Sacred & Religious Sites, Historic Sites, History Museums
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    This was first used as a church in 537. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 and became a museum in 1934. Lots of 'guides' will exaggerate the waiting times and tell you that you would be better to go in with them as they could bypass the queues.(for a fee) There is plenty to see inside. As you enter, notice the doorway and its mosaic of Christ holding a book. Either side of him are the Virgin Mary and the angel Gabriel. Be sure to notice the nave that has no supporting columns. The sultan worshiped from a special suspended kiosk. In the apse, also in the nave, is the mosaic of the Virgin Mary and child. Now look at the Dome which is said to be 'floating'. Its supporting pillars are actually hidden in the walls! Look for the 'weeping' column. if you put your finger in the little hole in it and it comes out damp, you will be cured of your ills! There is a queue for this. Upstairs,are mosaics of Christ, Zoe the Empress and of the last judgment, the grave of Dandolo, a crusader and some Viking graffiti on a banister. Most of the main attractions are labelled and can be easily found as there is usually a little crowd around them. read less

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The ottoman tombs are outside. Visit via Kabasakal Caddesi. Shoes off and modest dress for this part.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #1 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Great Place which everyone should see and enjoy. 20/10/2017
    • Inspiring 20/10/2017
    • Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya)
    Address:
    Ayasofya Square, Sultanahmet
    Istanbul 34122
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 522 1750
    Other:
  • Day 2
  • Save
    Topkapi Palace
    History Museums
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    We queued to get in here, and although the line was very long, we were inside within an hour. It cost around 40 lira, just over £10.There is a great deal to see here. Allow half a day at least - we were there longer. There is a room full of clocks, a treasury, a room displaying relics, another full of Armour and weapons, kitchens, the Sultan's meeting rooms and living quarters, the harem area, terraces, gardens, and more. Local 'guides' offer you a chance to get in quicker if you pay for their services. Be careful. I can't believe they guide you around all day and the one we heard, seemed to be reading the display labels to a very inquisitive Chinese guest who we noticed had later abandoned him. There are some wonderful views and photo opportunities. This is a sight that really is not to be missed.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Be prepared to queue to get into different attractions once inside.
    Plan to stay:/
    More than 3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #7 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Must visit museum in Turkey 20/10/2017
    • The Treasury is closed for renovation 18/10/2017
    • Topkapi Palace
    Address:
    Cankurtaran Mahallesi, Topkapi Palace Museum, 34122 Fatih/Istanbul, Turkey
    Gulhane Park, near Sultanahmet Square
    Istanbul
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 522 44 22
    Other:
  • Save
    Gulhane Park
    Parks
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    This was a place we found by accident, a large area of pathways and flower beds full of tulips. There were plenty of benches to enjoy some sunshine and watch the birds (parrots?) flying around the many nesting boxes. There are lots of public toilets here and you could enjoy a picnic and a rest from the sightseeing for an hour or so.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Thrifty Traveller
    Tips
    • Take a picnic
    • Lots of places to enjoy a rest
    • Look out for the brightly coloured birds
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #17 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • A Green Oasis 16/10/2017
    • Relaxing greenery 07/10/2017
    • Gulhane Park
    Address:
    Alemdar Mah. Alemdar Cad. Eminonu/Cagaloglu, Fatih
    Istanbul 34122
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 584 16 00
  • Day 3
  • Save
    Kapali Carsi
    Flea & Street Markets
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    Well you obviously can't visit Istanbul and not visit the Grand bazaar. The place is enormous and you can easily get lost in here. it is full of atmosphere and you will get some fabulous photos.You soon start to realise that all the shops are selling pretty much the same things - pointy Turkish slippers, painted bowls, globe shaped lights, Turkish delight, rugs and some leather jackets. There is the antique part that has a bit more variety and there are some very upmarket jewelers but the people you see in here are mainly tourists buying trinkets to take home. Make your way to the spice bazaar as part of this visit. The streets surrounding here are also full of interesting things to see. There are many places to buy snacks, too. Have a sit down before heading to the Suleymaniye mosque nearby.

    Good for
    • Must See
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Hidden Gems
    Tips
    • Crowded so keep an eye on your bag!
    • Good when the weather is bad
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #32 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Romance and Shopping 19/10/2017
    • Well worth a visit 16/10/2017
    • Kapali Carsi
    Address:
    Beyazit Mh.
    Fatih
    Istanbul 34126
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 519 12 48
    Other:
  • Save
    Suleymaniye Mosque
    Architectural Buildings, Sacred & Religious Sites
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    Built in 1550 around a beautiful marble courtyard, this is a beautiful place to spend some time appreciating the amazing architecture and magnificence that surrounds you. It is not so crowded as some of the other places in Istanbul. You need to dress appropriately and you will not be admitted in prayer times.

    Good for
    • History Buff
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • The street opposite has many restaurants and cafes suitable for lunch. (not fine dining)
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #5 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Mosque by Sinan and burial site of Sultan Suleyman 20/10/2017
    • It's worth 1 trip. 19/10/2017
    • Suleymaniye Mosque
    Address:
    Sinan Aga Mah. Zeyrek Cad. No:4
    Zeyrek, Fatih
    Istanbul
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 506 769 33 92
    Other:
  • Save
    Galata Bridge
    Bridges
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    Head for the bridge as this is the area from which to take your ferry ride on the river. It is an interesting walk over the bridge. You will see locals fishing in the water below you and it is a good opportunity to take more photos of the city. There are lots of restaurants underneath it, too. Don't expect it to be picturesque. It is quite noisy here and not especially peaceful but you get to see a little bit of Turkish life!

    Good for
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    • Like a Local
    Tips
    • Get the ferry from here.
    • many of the restaurants have good reputations.
    Plan to stay:/
    Less than 1 hour
    From the community
    Ranked #31 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • Filled with Culture! 19/10/2017
    • Lively, colourfully & interesting. 16/10/2017
    • Galata Bridge
    Address:
    Galata Koprusu Kemankes Karamustafa Pasa
    Beyoglu
    Istanbul 34425
    Turkey
    Phone:
    +90 212 243 95 01
    Other:
  • Save
    Bosphorus Strait
    Bodies of Water
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    No doubt you are ready for a sit down and the ferry ride is cheap and easy. the ride gives you an opportunity to reflect on some of the places you have visited.You will see lots of sellers trying to sell tours on the river. Ignore them and make your way down to the bridge where the ferries are and just buy a ticket for a two hour round trip. The views are not exactly picturesque but it is a chance to see some huge palaces, get a bit of fresh air, a sit down and a cup of coffee with no effort on your part and at a small cost. Some of the ferry rides last far longer and you can get on and off. We felt two hours was enough for us and it allowed our legs a rest from the sight seeing.

    Good for
    • Peace and Quiet Seeker
    • Must See
    • Thrifty Traveller
    • Hidden Gems
    • Like a Local
    • History Buff
    • Art and Architecture Lover
    Tips
    • Take a decent map so you can follow your route and identify the buildings you pass.
    • Sit on the left of the ferry to get the best views.
    • Consider taking a picnic.
    • It can be windy on a cold day and exposed on a hot day if you sit outside.
    Plan to stay:/
    2-3 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #8 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    Certificate of Excellence 2014
    • take the ferry 20/10/2017
    • It was worth it! 20/10/2017
    • Bosphorus Strait
  • Save
    Taksim Square
    Neighbourhoods
    See more photos
    CambridgeMaggie Says:

    From the Galata bridge, it is interesting to make your way up to this busy square. You will pass through Istanbul's huge modern shopping area (Istiklal Caddesi) where you will find modern chain stores and many bars. This is also where you will see the old Turkish trams. This area has a very different feel to the traditional/historic areas but it is interesting to see the contrast.

    Good for
    • Shopping Fanatic
    • Nightlife Seeker
    Tips
    • You can get a tram here from Sultanahmet area.
    Plan to stay:/
    1-2 hours
    From the community
    Ranked #63 of 1,099 things to do in Istanbul
    • Shopping street 20/10/2017
    • Very Nice and City Center 16/10/2017
    • Taksim Square
    Address:
    Gumussuyu Mh.
    Beyoglu
    Istanbul 34437
    Turkey
    Hours:
    Sun - Sat
    00:00 - 23:59
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